Art and Life



The frame of a painting seems to provide an immediate answer to questions concerning the location of the boundary between life and art. Yet such an answer is problematic, since the status of the frame itself remains uncertain; it does not clearly belong to either sphere. The frame first appears as part of a painting, an indication that the perceiver should view its contents as art. From the point of view afforded by the painting itself, however, the frame is an arbitrary convention belonging to the realm of ordinary life. The frame, then, cannot be identified with either life or art; rather, it signals the shift from one to the other.1 In Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Lady in the Looking-Glass’ and Roger Fry’s ‘An Essay in Aesthetics’, the frame of a mirror is used to suggest the transference of aesthetic criteria to life. That Virginia Woolf would choose to explore the implications of a frame may be seen as a consequence of her association with painters and aestheticians. Although the influence of Roger Fry, in particular, was considerable, Virginia Woolf’s theories of art sometimes appear to have developed in opposition to his views.2 Her acceptance of the metaphors and models that his speculations provided without a corresponding commitment to the theories themselves is evident when one compares their descriptions of the effect of the frame.


Cotton Wool Ultimate Reality Eternal Truth Street Scene Aesthetic Criterion 
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Copyright information

© C. Ruth Miller 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TorontoCanada

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